Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Cossacks raiding 200 years ago ...

25mm Cossack on the cover of David Chandler's Master Work
In addition to wasting and ever-increasing proportion of French manpower, the elusive Russian tactics also contributed to the mental as well as physical exhaustion of Napoleon's forces.  Tip and run raids by small bands of Cossacks were continuous and exercised a baleful influence far in excess of the military danger they represented.  The French army became increasingly subject to fits of the jitters.  Captain Roeder noted one typical example in his diary.  The Hessian troops were mustering for parade before the Emperors quarters at Vietebsk on August 17, when "Everything was suddenly thrown into ridiculous uproar because a few Cossacks had been sighted, who were said to have carried off a forager.  The entire garrison sprang to arms, and when the had ridden out it was discovered that we were really surrounded by only a few dozen Cossacks who were dodging about hither and thither.  In this way they were able to bring the whole garrison to hospital in about fourteen days without losing a single man."  The Cossacks enjoyed a very high opinion of their martial qualities.  Shortly before Borodino a prisoner informed Napoleon that "If Alexander's Russian soldiers were like the Cossacks, you and your Frenchmen would not be in Russia.  If Napoleon had Cossacks in his army he would have been Emperor in China long ago.  It is the Cossacks who do all the fighting; it is always their turn."  However the individual Cossack was not so imposing an adversary when met in single combat, and man for man the French light cavalryman was probably superior.  But in a harassing elusive role, the men of the Don valley had no equal.

~D. Chandler, The campaigns of Napoleon, p.781-2

More amazing details about the Cossacks can be found : here.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Battle Front 1812

French Advance into Russia, first stage of 1812
On the eve of Operations in June 1812, the various army groups had occupied a start line of a little over 250 miles (Konigsberg to Lublin).  In little more than six weeks, the front-line forces had become extended into a huge arrowhead running from Riga to Vitebsk and thence towards Bobruisk and the Pripet Marshes.  Even excluding Schwarzenberg and Reynier, Operating around Lutsk far to the southwest of the rest of the army, the main French front extended for well over 500 miles.  Thus Napoleon's resources were becoming decidedly strung out, and the strategic consumption of manpower was already serious.  By the time he reached Smolensk in mid August, the effective fighting strength of his central army group had been reduced to 156,000.  In the month that followed this figure was to shrink still further, amounting to only 95,000 by the time Moscow was occupied; and all the time the French lines of communication were inevitably becoming more and more extended, placing an ever heavier load on the shoulders of the overworked supply battalions and calling for numerous garrison detachments for the protection of the staging points and extended flanks.  Whether or not the Russian policy of denying battle and drawing Napoleon ever further into the midst of Russia was the result of deliberate planning or dictated by the course of events, it undoubtedly weakened the Grande Armee to a mere shadow of its original battle power.

~ D. Chandler, The Campaigns of Napoleon p.781

The significance of this cannot be missed to the war gamer seeking to simulate this sort of grand campaign.  Supply is a critical issue, as would be the maintenance of the supply lines in such a situation.  The steppes of Russia are not the fertile fields of the Po River valley...

When planning your campaign games do you include any such factors?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Cat and mouse with Bonaparte ... two centuries ago

Barclay de Tolly
The pace of events began to quicken.  On the 23rd Davout was engaged in a sharp action against Bagration at Mohilev and succeeded in denying the Russians passage northward; that is to say, the French were still successfully interposing their troops between the two Russian armies.  The 24th saw Napoleon at Biechenkovski, carrying out a personal reconnaissance of the further bank of the Dvina; that same day a handful of captured Russian stragglers confirmed that Barclay was in person at Vitebsk.  The uncertainty was now over.  During the night the French set off for Vitebsk along the Dvina's left bank, still intent on forcing a battle on an unreinforced Barclay.  On the 25th and 26th Napoleon really believed that this had at last materialized; on both days Murat's cavalry was engaged with Russian forces at Ostronovo, and the belief grew that the foe was indeed courting battle.  Convinced that Barclay was now at his mercy, Napoleon withstood the temptation to attack at once with the forces at hand, and ordered his troops to wait for one day to allow reinforcements to close up.

This delay was the Emperor's great mistake; it is true that Barclay had originally intended to face the French at Vitebsk, but when he learned that there was no longer any chance of Bagration moving up through Orsha (owing to Davout's successful blocking action at Mohilev), he changed his mind and decided to slip away toward a new rendezvous at Smolensk.  By delaying his attack for the space of one day, Napoleon unwittingly gave Barclay the chance to get clear; consequently, when the French advanced in full panoply of battle on teh morning of the 28th, they found Vitebsk in its turn evacuated by the elusive foe.  And so Napoleon experienced his second disappointment of the campaign; twice the neck of the strategic net had been pulled tight, but on each occasion the prey had narrowly eluded capture.

There was now little chance of catching Barclay this side of Smolensk; there were too many good roads for his army to use.  Similarly, there was little hope of preventing Bagration from making a successful rendezvous with his collegue.  Napoleon's strategy had come to naught, and he failed to force a decisive engagement on a divided foe.  He could hardly console himself with the  knowledge that he had inflicted some 8,000 casualties on the foe and had been in possession of "the principal military position in Europe."  There was no disguising the fact that the Grande Armee had worn itself to a shadow in the process.  The weather was excessively hot, and the number of sick had risen alarmingly; the loss of horses had been particularly severe.  The route of the army was marked with putrefying corpses which undoubtedly served to raise the sickness rate.

~D. Chandler, The Campaigns of Napoleon; p. 799

My good friend Peter will be by tomorrow, perhaps we will do some Garden Wars about all of this ...

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Vintage Wargame 1975 Waterloo by Airfix

There is a simply amazing series of posts at Vintage Wargames Blog all about this Waterloo Game.

If you are feeling nostalgic or have an interest in such things do take a look over at this site.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Salamanca - recreations then and now

Salamanca or Los Arapiles is a peninsular war battle that I have recreated on the table top many times before.

Cover of the Autumn 2003 Arcadian Guild Quarterly
These past games did not have many photographs.  One, from 2003, did have many photos taken during the game, sadly the computer that they were stored on was destroyed in 2004 and I did not get any data from it archived onto CD's before the electrical storm that fried the whole computer struck.

The game featured on the cover was run in 15mm with Kelly Jones' collection, soon after he moved to Victoria.

summary of the re-fight of Salamanca from Autumn 2003 AGQ

Today I was inspired to pull out my 15mm minis, that are all setup for doing a Napoleonic version of Hordes of the Things, and put together a re-creation of the battle for this scale - using my own homebrew DBN rules.

I have a set of 12"x12" boards that have pre-set terrain on them, I have also made up a set of map generators, with a parchment feel, for setting up campaign game battles - formerly via e-mail (I did a series of Waterloo campaigns with them that worked out quite well - more about that some other time).

a parchment version of the map used in today's refight of Salamanca

The parchment blocks are not 'exact' copies of the boards, so the planning stages can have some unpredictability about them.

tabletop terrain and troops laid out 2' x 3'
This battle did not go so fast for the British, as their command die rolls were repeatedly horrible - for the first 4 turns (about one hour) they could only manage to move about 1/3 of their forces.  By turn 5 the artillery of both sides was finally able to come into action.

Artillery in a duel
Far on the British right, French left, the French cavalry had assembled and fell onto the flank of the British line.  The tactic almost worked, however it left the French cavalry in a vulnerable position backed into rough terrain.

The counter-attack from the British and Portuguese cavalry was enough to eliminate all of the French cavalry ... half way to victory!

raging artillery duel continued while British cavalry cut up their French counterparts
French lines continued to be broken up by the British artillery and the counter attack on the French right was not making any progress.  Every time they came to firing with the British, the French would come out on the loosing end of the die rolls.

British and Portuguese cavalry fall back, having lost 1/3 of their forces, meanwhile the French cannot get any effective fire into their counter attacks

Then a critical decision is made, the French commander moves into the line - preparing to make a push along with the left flank and at least take out one force of British foot.  This would put the commander into artillery range for one salvo at least ...

The British artillery did not miss!  Command was broken for one turn before devolving to the flag carrying infantry formation on the other side of the massed batteries.  Score was now British 3 : French 1

new French command is temporarily disordered from artillery fire (spiral marker)

New command took time to maneuver the line back into a battle ready action formation, meanwhile the British command rolls continued to be terrible.  Keeping the British from doing much more than get ready for the next French attack.

The line re-formed and charged, this time it did not fail and one British line unit was routed.

The counter attack and artillery barrage put the final nail in the coffin for the French as they lost one more unit of infantry ... final score British 4 : French 2, the French were forced to retire from the field - just as historically happened 200 years ago.

with only 3rd battalions of infantry to cover the left flank the French were obliged to start withdrawl

While searching for the old pictures of Salamanca, I came across this Larry Leadhead classic:

when was the last time you searched your 'lead mound'?

There were other great items for campaign work and game action photos that I have also found ... giving me more food for thought and some great 'looking back' material for future posts here with MurdocK's MarauderS

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Elusive foe ... a tale from two centuries ago.

Napoleon believed that Barclay would now make his own way down the Orsha road to hasten the junction with his colleague, and accordingly all units were ordered to concentrate at Kamen, ready to fight the long-sought battle.

Napoleon considers his next move.

Once again, however, the Emperor's intuition proved wrong.  True, the Russians were straining every nerve to reunite thier forces, but their designated place of meeting was Vitebsk, and not Polotsk as had hitherto been assumed by Napoleon.  By the 21st he had recognized his error, whereupon he ordered his troops to move from Kamen to Biechenkovski, which they were to reach by the 24th.  But nothing appeared certain.  "Will the foe come to Biechenkovski or move straight to Vitebsk?" he asked himself in a letter to Eugene.

~ D. Chandler, The Campaigns of Napoleon p778

Friday, July 20, 2012

Dutch Forces

Painted this week, 52 Dutch infantry.

bare metal to fully painted in one week 52 Dutch Infantry
I did this as something of a challenge, to see if I could stay on focus with the brushwork, while still maintaining a momentum with some business transactions.

The business transactions did the expected this time and gave me a gap on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday; permitting the paint time.  Now the paperwork for work has come back and I shall have to divert focus to get all that done.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Convention Game Decided

With the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Maloyaroslavets coming on the 12th of October and the Dak-Kon game event on the 13th and 14th, the game to play decision was very simple.

Battle of Maloyaroslavets October 12, 1812
Now I must get on with the confirmation of the troops, I shall have to use blue coats for the French forces, though I am considering changing out the flags to Italian ones as it was a mostly Italian force under Eugene that did the fighting in this pivotal battle of the Russian campaign.

Further games are likely this week from either Garden Wars or FPGA as the 200th anniversary of Salamanca is this Sunday.

Wellington at Salamanca
Salamanca was one of the first tabletop battles I ever played out, Arapiles as it was known to the Spanish, was the name I played it as using Napoleon's Battles.  I shall have to see if I can find any old pictures.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Bastille Day Parade

I decided to have my own Bastille Day Parade, Garden Wars style.

Line Infantry passes in review in front of Bonaparte and the Imperial Guard
I laid out my large buildings as terrain along with all the road sections that I have for the 25/28 mm scale.

I then set out the 'dais' of Bonaparte with his Imperial Guard to review the painted French troops marching past.

Heavy Cavalry of Cuirassier and Dragoons leads the column in review
The whole parade route in one photo.
From end to end it measured 4 yards or about 12 feet (the road is curved, and the troops are 'spaced' from each other, not packed tight.  Nor was the Imperial Guard in the marching column.  The troops were laid out in fighting lines or battle formations, with the artillery being pulled as a battery line abreast.

I estimate that were these troops to be laid out in proper march columns it would take another 8 yards to have them all marching along a single route.

In total I have some 405 French forces (some were not laid out as I have many more greatcoats - good for anybody really) and perhaps a dozen or so infantry that were not in the SHAKO formations (as I made by groups all 16 in number originally).

The Imperial Guard formed quite a sight with the long marching column going past.

Napoleon, the Marshals and Imperial Guard were the reviewing dais
Six years along now in this deeper Napoleonic experience and one miniature made me smile, as he appears in the very first posting in this blog.

A hot day again on the parade route, many years on and this Dragoon officer is still leading columns in my collection
Felicitation de La Fête Nationale!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Garden Wars - Hot day conflict part 2

Continuing from the earlier post, by turn 8 the French spearhead had cut across the bridge and almost reached the beaches where British infantry were just starting to land...

The first phase of the battle was certainly done and the French boys were pleased with the results, most certainly they did not consider the loss of the Dragoon division of much import, they had traded the Dragoons for two battalions of Russians and a full battery of artillery.

Now a slowing of the French happens, while the infantry divisions come to grips with each other, the Russians were pounding the columns moving now into range, the first salvos from the Siege artillery were also having effect, now that they had turned to face the left flank and had the Guard cavalry in canister range!

Orders had also reached the Russian Hussars whom were rushing to the new 'center' of the field.

The flank turned, now the Russians were reacting to the situation
The Hussar division executed its orders perfectly, striking from the far side of the river and applying pressure just as the Guard Cavalry was smashing through two Russian squares and spiking one half battery of foot artillery.

French Hussars face no opposition until across the river
The situation on the far side of the church was desperate for the Russians and they were to all ultimately be broken up by the charge of the Empress Dragoons.  Guard heavy cavalry - OUCH!

French Guard cavalry is just too powerful, even for steady squares!
The French plan was just one turn too slow, or the Russians sacrificed just enough to slow them down, as the British light division began its landings.

British battalions start landings
For ground gained, this was the French 'high water mark' - as the Chasseurs a Cheval were blown, tired, had casualties and were facing a steady British square with another line coming up behind.  The Chasseurs wisely chose to turn back and fall hard upon the Russian HQ driving it deep into the center of the field.

French spearhead reached to just short of the beaches
This was now into turn 10, and the British cavalry started landings, on the farther beach, with no artillery the French could not do anything about these landings.  The nature of the battle was now shifting as another full division was about to land here after the cavalry had cleared off.

British Light Dragoons land on the second beach, well beyond French range.
The French and British spearheads were at one another now.

French and British spearheads, as close as they would get this time ...
 The tide was turning, ever so slowly for the Russians favor.  The French cavalry spearhead would have to recover and take refuge behind the church from the relentless pounding it was taking from the massed Russian batteries and siege artillery.  Now the Hussars were moving, further orders had reached the Russian Grenadier formation and the Cuirassiers.  The next stage of the battle was about to start ...

Russian Cuirassier Division
 The long French columns of infantry had now started to come clear of the woods, though battered by the Russian guns they were still moving....

French infantry columns come out from woods gap
The Russians continued to deliver fire into the columns as they formed up to advance.

Russian cannon deliver a pounding to French units
The French cavalry had no choice other than seeking cover behind the church from the massed artillery batteries and siege guns.  All formation of horse now had some casualties and or were blown from continued charges.

again a view of scale with my 6 year old in the distance
sheltered by the church the French cavalry would need time to rest before taking on any further action
While the French horses rested the British Light Dragoons were riding hard for the edge of the mangrove forest and the center of the now Allied line.

British Light Dragoons
Meanwhile the rest of the British beachhead was consolidated with half of the brigade forming square to hold off any opportunity charges by the nearby French cavalry...

British beachhead held by squares and rifles in the mangrove woods
The British view of the French cavalry
The area around the Church was definitely in French control, though they would have to pay for holding it with many more horsemen as the Russian massed batteries and Siege artillery were in canister range.

the Church region
Russian massed batteries and Siege artillery firing

Meanwhile by turn 11 the French columns had become exposed from the woods gap to the fire from Russian foot batteries with attached infantry.  The approach to the lines would have to be paid for....

Russian infantry support artillery laying down fire into the woods gap
emerging from the woods line these French columns would have to weather the canister storm
From the Russian right, the Hussars had emerged into the center of the field, now to threaten these advancing French columns and provide much needed cover for the exposed massed batteries and the moved headquarters.

Russian Hussars streaking into the center in front of the Grenadier battalions
Russian headquarters in some disarray after fleeing from French Guard Chasseurs
It was here, at the end of turn 11 that the players all melted from the heat.  One young player had slightly scalded his fingertips with the metal bases, they had become so hot in the bright sunlight!

Here then is the view of the field at the moment we stopped, the score was 2-2, with each side needing another 10 battalions or squadrons defeated to win/lose.  At the moment the French are in advantage in the ground having invested the Russian left flank.  Though slow to respond the Russian army was moving and would be in position to threaten the 9 battalions closing in on the center right.

The field as of the end of turn 11, where we left it.

Who do you feel would win this battle?

What are your thoughts about doing such a game in the garden?

There were only 2 confirmed casualties in the minis, one musket on a Russian infantryman was broken off and this French Hussar became separated from his mount.  The repair was done that night on the horseman, the loss of the musket is not critical.

only limited wear on the minis in this battle

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Garden Wars - Hot Day Conflict

After the abortive start, where rain was the threat, we got started on a Garden Wars action on 7 July.

My eldest son had invited a friend to check out the minis experience and he chose to command the French forces.

16 Battalions of Infantry, including 2 Guard Class
7 Squadrons of Cavalry, including Guard Dragoons and Chasseurs a Cheval
4 Batteries of foot artillery and 1 &1/2 of Horse Guns

facing them were


8 Battalions of Infantry, including 2 Grenadiers
11 Squadrons of Cavalry, with 1 Guard Dragoon, 2 Cuirass and 3 Cossacks in the mix
3 Batteries of foot artillery, 1 1/2 of Horse guns and 1/2 battery of Siege Artillery

Arriving on turn 8 (on the beach areas near the river mouth) British:

4 Battalions of Infantry
Squadron of Light Dragoons

Therefore initially there would be a French advantage until turn 8, when the British forces would arrive progressively until turn 14 when they would all be present and (potentially) able to engage in conflict.

As in the past, we used cardboard 'blinds' for the central and forward most position of the Divisions while they were outside of 'viewing' range, this time decided to be three yards, or 1 & 1/2 times maximum artillery range.

The French deployed with a tight column of Infantry with four divisions in columns to race towards the Russians through the two gaps in the forests.  One column of Guard Infantry was to press through the woods, arriving on the other side some time after the elite Guard Cavalry had pressed into the attack to capture the only bridge across a river that divided the battlefield.  On one flank they sent Hussars, to storm across the bridge.  On the other went a Dragoon Division, with orders to tie down as much Russian Cavalry as possible.

The Russians had not seen the threat to the bridges, and had deployed the Infantry to hold the woods line, and Cavalry to cover the open ground to the Russian right and keep open access to the large beach areas so that the coming British forces could have room to deploy.

The French Dragoons were the first to be detected clearly as the Russians had many cavalry formations covering the open right flank...

French Dragoons in a column of Squadrons in battle formation.
The French probe into the Russian right flank exposed nearly all the Russian formations who were standing still and came within the three yard range of view of this Dragoon force.

Russian Dragoons make ready to assault the advancing French.

First as a threat to the French Dragoons were Russian Dragoons, who began to react in preparation to strike at this column of squadrons, secondly a Cossack force began to move, also in preparation to fall upon the French, ideally after they had been mauled by Russian Dragoons.

Russian right flank, where French Dragoons closed in on three formations of Russian Cavalry
The French decide to strike first, rushing towards the Russian cavalry formations without pausing at all, leaving their field horse artillery far behind them ...

as a sense of scale this is what the right flank looks like with a 6 year old sitting in it
the view from the French Dragoon's perspective, you can just make out the Russian Dragoons in front of the boys knees...
Within two rounds of close combat there was nothing left of 2/3rds of the French Dragoons and they rolled a "2" for Divisional Morale, meaning that they were to retreat to their starting line.

Just after the first French Dragoon attack, Russians had lost all melees and were now in a position to crush the French Dragoon Division
The situation on the Russian left and center were much different.

French Guard Cavalry had run down the river and had routed a steady Russian Infantry Square!  Those French Empress Dragoons are really, really scary when used like this!

Further out to the Russian left, French Hussars were now making ready to storm across the bridge, this could take French troops into the edge of the British landing areas!

By turn 7 the French have reached firing range with the Russian lines
This was about when the heat began to tell on my young players, also the French 'wing commander', my eldest son realized that there was no way to stop the British landings.  This was when his confidence faltered.

I shall close out this posting with a to be continued ...